Utah biologist to discuss human engagement with nature

Nalini Nadkarni

A rainforest ecologist who has developed new ways to raise awareness about the threats to forest ecosystems will deliver this year’s Robert D. Clark Lecture sponsored by the Oregon Humanities Center.

Nalini Nadkarni, a biology professor at the University of Utah, will continue to explore this year’s theme of “The Common Good” by discussing how her experiences as a scientist led to her explorations into diverse ways of engaging humans with the natural world. Her lecture, titled “Tapestry Thinking: Weaving the Threads of Humans and Nature,” will take place Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 156, Straub Hall.

Nadkarni’s 35 years of ecological research in tropical and temperate rainforest canopies led to discoveries about the importance of treetop-dwelling plants in ecosystem processes, as well as the fragility of the rainforest tapestry. To help raise awareness of the need to protect forests and to narrow the distance between humans and nature, Nadkarni created novel ways to share knowledge with a range of public audiences, including urban youth, visual artists, rap singers, policy makers and faith-based groups.

She co-founded the Sustainability in Prisons Project, which brings science lectures, conservation projects and nature imagery to incarcerated men, women and youth in state prisons, county jails and juvenile detention centers, including those in Oregon. This interweaving of plants, animals and people has helped create a stronger tapestry of conservation and engagement with nature.

Nadkarni writes that her effort to boost public engagement with science began in 2001, when she received a Guggenheim Fellowship to explore the obstacles that scientists face in disseminating their research to non-scientific audiences.

“My approach was to directly link my research and conservation messages about forest canopies with activities and objects valued by nontraditional audiences,” she writes. “I have designed and implemented projects to raise awareness and inspire these audiences to learn and care more about science, trees and nature in general.” 

Nadkarni is the author of “Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees” and has delivered TED Talks on “Conserving the Canopy” and “Life Science in Prison.” She is a co-founder of the Nature Imagery in Prisons Project at Oregon’s Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario.

Nadkarni’s lecture is free and open to the public and will be live-streamed atohc.uoregon.edu. For more information, call 541-346-3934 or contact ohc@uoregon.edu